Barcelona is not typically cold or wet in winter—it's usually blue skied and clear even when it's cool outside. Yet somehow Micro Mutek always seems to fall on days with the most uncharacteristically cold and dark weather. Last year's rare snowfall tied in perfectly with the event's winter themes and Armageddon imagery. This year the bitter winds and freezing temperatures emptied the streets outside, a scene that matched the often bleak sounds of the Canadian festival's fourth edition in Spain.
Local producer XTRNGR opened proceedings at The Station, an excellent venue in a train station café, warming up for Chilean DJ Andrés Bucci. XTRNGR's set was a good primer for the festival as a whole, covering everything from ambient to IDM, dubstep, drum & bass and techno in one hour. Laurel Halo was the opposite, giving an exceptionally personal performance that was arguably the best of the weekend. Her music was closer to Hour Logic than Quarantine, with no singing and barely any recognisable vocal samples. The first 25 minutes were an exquisite psychedelic drawl, and when the beat finally came in, it didn't stay for long. Instead she used long runs of hazy hi-hats as a frame and painted her sound within it.
Raime have improved a lot since I saw them last at Sonar, where they felt a bit inert and dense at times. This time their performance was much more dynamic, plumbing deeper troughs and swelling into powerful highs as it followed the arc of their album, Quarter Turns Over a Living Line. Kuedo, too, found some very deep moments, particularly in the first half hour of his set, fusing incredibly rich synth textures and fluttering beats into a seamless psychedelic projection. The second half played to the heavier side of his sound, but as a whole the impression was that Jamie Teasdale has moved up another level from the excellence of Severent.
The last show at The Station hosted local ambient musician Mario G. Ferrer, or D. forma, accompanied by visual artist Alba G Corral, whose mostly black and white digital art was some of the festival's best. D. forma's set was excellent, carrying on from where Raime left off, but exploring a much less violent and more internalised world of drones, rhythmic noise, feedback and field recordings. If D. forma was dark, then Canada's Le Révélateur was technicolour. His short set was basically a respectful cover of "Vuh" by the krautrock band Popol Vuh.
Friday night followed the same trend. Local DJ Marc Piñol caused something of a stir by taking control early with a pacey and at times experimental set, mixing labels like L.I.E.S. with more conventional warm-up tracks. Vessel was at first a step down in intensity, starting slower and playing at much lower volume, almost as if he was anxious about being heard. Jon Hopkins' flamboyant show felt at odds with almost all the other music on offer. His rock star approach and colourful music made him the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, though he still got a good cheer when he finished. Monolake's closing set in quadrophonic sound was another highlight. He started in what seemed like a textural fog that eventually cleared for a long, high-pressure breakbeat finish.
Jeff Mills' Jungle Planet was a strange but satisfying beast. The stage was draped in white like a lunar surface, with a backdrop image of blue planets that changed every half hour as the "story" began a new chapter. It was possible to pick out patterns in the music that corresponded to the chapters, like a segment with more drums, or one that was a bit bleepier. Overall it was one of the best sets I've ever seen him play; even if it was predictable in some ways, the pacing, timing and the progression of the chapters gave it a meta-logic that wouldn't be possible in a more traditional set. Mills' music always combines the dystopian feel of industrialisation with a sense of optimism. As with Theo Parrish's set last year, hope was the lasting impression as we all grabbed our coats for a frosty journey home in the empty streets.